I was a soldier. No, I was a weapon. They were the hand and I was the smoking gun. All they needed to do was point and all I needed to do, was pull the trigger. And my bullets will always find its mark. I was created for one purpose and one purpose only.
Some people would say that being a soldier is glorious and noble. For some, they see it as a higher call. A chance to prove your loyalty to your beloved country. It was a load of crap. I didn’t do this for glory. I certainly didn’t do this because of some patriotic nonsense. No, my reasons were simple. I get my hands dirty so others won’t have to. I kill so others could live.
Though, to be perfectly honest, it was mostly because I’ve got nowhere else to turn to. I was messed up. Well, that was putting it mildly. I was in pieces. I was in a dark place, alone, hating the world. My mom was dead, my deadbeat dad was in jail, and my brother is… probably halfway across the continent robbing banks and stealing shit. As far as I’m concern, I’ve got no other living relative. So, I joined the army.
The training was harsh. But at least I get a place to sleep and a meal three times a day. Can’t exactly complain about that, can I? Needless to say, I liked it.
I was good. I was too good. Well, mostly because I already learned how to fight back – mostly against bigger and taller opponent. Namely, my dad – since early age. A few of thecommanding officers started to notice me and all of a sudden, I became the Golden Boy. They liked me.
The other recruits? Not so much.
As I said, I was good. I was the top of my class. Well, most of the class. But you get my point. They ignored me, treated me like I didn’t exist, out of spite. I found myself eating alone in the mess hall most of the time. It didn’t really bother me because I already got used to being alone.
Until the marksmanship test.
Marksmanship, the bane of my existence. Don’t get me wrong. I was still one of the top three in my class. But close combat is more of my thing. Besides, being the best is what I do. I was untouchable because I was the best. The other recruits hated me, I knew it. But they couldn’t do anything about it other than glaring daggers at me from afar. If someone beat me at marksmanship, then it’ll give them ammunition to bully me.
I was wrong.
After completing his test with the best score, he turned to me and did something unthinkable. He grinned at me. And not in the condescending ‘I’m better than you’ way. But more like a playful competitive ‘Ha ha I win!’ way. It threw me for a loop.
But I found myself smiling back at him.
“So,” he began as he approached me after the test was over, “this is the prodigal son who I managed to beat at marksmanship.” He grinned.
“And this is the guy who managed to beat me at this one test.” I replied with a grin of my own. He laughed before he offered his hand to me.
“William Capshaw.” He said.
“Jack Hammond.” I replied as I shook his hand.
“I know. It’s nice to finally put a face to the name. You’re basically a legend around here. I mean, you’re the best at everything.” He said. Then, a mischievous smirk appeared on his lips. “Well, nearly everything.”
I couldn’t help but laughed at that. “Can’t be the best at everything, right?” I said. “People already hate me enough as it is.”
Capshaw winced at that. “Yeah… sorry about that.” I just shrugged. What can you do, right? Then another thought popped into my head.
“Hang on a second. Capshaw as in General Stephen Capshaw? You two are related?” I asked and he laughed. What’s so funny?
“I’m surprised that’s not the first thing you noticed when I told you my name.” He said as he rubbed the back of his neck. A nervous tick. Huh. “And yeah, he’s my dad.”
“Really? You’re nothing like him.” I said and saw his smile fell a little. “Because unlike him, you don’t have a stick shoved up your ass.” I smirked. I repressed the urge to laugh as I saw him struggling to pick his jaw up from the floor. And when he did, he laughed.
That had been it. Against his better judgement, he kept sticking with me. And against my better judgement, I let him. He was the first friend I have in… well, ever. But I’m not gonna lie, it was pretty rough in the beginning. Because between the two of us, I didn’t really know how to be a friend, let alone a good friend. I’m not… good with people, I’m not good for people. Still, he put up with me and all the baggage that come with me. And I’m grateful for it.
But like everything in my life, it all spiraled out of control.
It was after our third mission together, where we stayed in a barrack before the extraction team come pick us up in the morning. It was a particularly rough mission. That was when my demons caught up with me. God, I didn’t even remember what the nightmare was about. I think it was something about my dad? Mixed with what happened in the mission? I don’t know. But what I definitely remembered was the fear, the danger, and the need to kill. My fight or flight instinct was going haywire and I woke up pinning down someone down my bed with a knife to their throat.
“Jack!” he shouted. “Come on, man. Snap out of it! It’s me!!”
He sounds familiar. I thought. I shook my head to clear it. And when the red haze finally dissipated, I saw exactly whose throat it was I had against my knife. I blinked.
“Will…??” I breathed.
“There you go, buddy.” He sighed in relief. For a few moments, we just stayed there, not moving, just breathing while my brain took its time to reboot. “Um… Can you get off of me?? It’s getting kinda awkward.” Will joked even though I could still saw fear in his eyes.
That’s when my brain clicked back online. It finally sinks in to me what just happened. What I almost did. I looked at the knife in my hand and the thin line of blood on Will’s throat. It was so thin it won’t even leave a scar. But…
“Oh my God…” I muttered as I scrambled away from Will. “Jesus Christ…” panic had finally settled in. I dropped the knife as if it just burned me. Blood was pounding in my ears as my head kept repeating a litany of ‘no no no no…’
This is my worst nightmare. Of all the things that might messed up our friendship, it had to be this. I thought that my stellar personality would drive him away all on its own. But no, this is far worse. It barely registered that I staggered out of the barrack and fell on my knees, dry heaving. ‘I almost killed him. God... I almost killed him.’
“Jack…” I heard Will called out to me and stepped towards me.
“Don’t. Just… don’t.” I heard him stop walking and then walked away. And not coming back. It could be seconds, or hours for all I care. But in the time that he was gone, my mind took me places. Like, this is it. He’s walking away from me and he’s not coming back. All because of a stupid night—
There was a bottled water dangling in front of my face.
“Drink.” Said Will. There’s not an ounce of fear or pity or disgust in his eyes. Just compassion and understanding and a tinge of sadness. I stared at the bottle before I took it and took a few gulps. For a while, we just sat there in a companionable silence.Why is he here?
“You wanna talk about it?” His voice barely above a whisper. I turned to look at him and saw the earnest look on his face, not at trace of judgement could be found. Why is he here?
“Why are you still here?”
“Give me some credit, Jack.” He scoffed. “I’m not gonna walk away from you just because you hold a knife to my throat. Which is saying a lot about me, to be honest.”
I just stared at him for a moment and shook my head. “You’re insane. Why the hell are you even pallin’ around with me?”
“Well see, I’m good with the ladies, which makes me the face in this dynamic duo we’ve got going on. I kinda need a muscle for the dynamic duo to work. That’s where you come in.You’re the close combat specialist, you’re the one who get to punch people in the face, down on the ground. And thatmakes you the muscle.”
“What the hell are you on about? I’m both the face and the muscle.”
He gasped in mocked horror. “You shut your mouth!! You can’t be both. That’s where the dynamic duo comes in, only one of us get to be the face and that’s definitely me. Ask anyone.”
I scoffed and shook my head. He is impossible. Here he is, joking like nothing’s wrong with the man who almost slit his throat. What the hell am I meant to do with that? Clearly he needs someone to take care of him if he’s joking around with the guy who almost killed him.
‘with the guy who are a killer.’ My mind had helpfully reminded me.
“Hey,” Will whispered and he bumped his shoulder to mine. “For what it’s worth, I’m not the kind of guy who gives up on people, Jack. And I’m definitely not giving up on you. Not now, not ever.”
That’s… He’s not… He can’t be real, right? This kind of person only exists in stories. A person who is like… a light at the end of the tunnel. That sort of thing does not happen in real life, I learned it the hard way. I know from experience to expect the worst in people. But here I am, staring at this person, who’s more like a brother than my own brother, looking for… something. When I didn’t find whatever it was I was looking for, I started talking.
About how my father was a drunken dirtbag who like to hit his own children.
About how my so-called brother left me when he couldn’t take it anymore.
About how I chose to stay and endured the beatings for my mother.
About how my mother got sick and I had to drop out of high school so I could work and paid for her medications.
About how the beatings got so bad that my mother, with whatever strength she had left, stepped in and took a knife that was meant for me.
About all the blood. There was so much blood and she was so still.
About how the police came in and took my father away, kicking and screaming, while I was taken to a hospital.
About how I checked myself out of the hospital and just disappeared off of the face of the earth. For a few years, I was wandering around, working odd jobs.
“And I ended up here.” I finished my long winding story. It was surprisingly easy to talk to him about the things that I’ve never talked about with anyone. And through it all, he kept listening, a comforting warmth by my side. I was relieved that the dark cold truth about my life hadn’t scared the man away, rather I felt closer to him than ever.
After this, there was no way I would do anything less than giving my life to protect him. After all, it is kinda hard not to be loyal to the man who would never give up on you even after he saw the glimpse of the broken man beneath your skin.
I will always have his six.
Until one day I didn’t.
Our team was ordered to provide support for the alpha team. I was still recuperating from an injury I got in the previous mission when the order came down. Which means I couldn’t come with the team on this mission. It sucked and I was twitchy as hell to let Will out of my sight. People might say that my protective nature over him is little bit excessive. But those people had never seen him doing some dumb reckless things that almost got him killed a couple of times, so their opinion is invalid.
“Don’t get dead, Will.” I said as a way to send him off. Which he answered with a merry salute, completely unaware of the hell he was going to go through.
The mission was a total snafu. A hellish combination of a well-timed ambush and bad intel. The area that they landed on?? The area that intel said was empty??The place was crawling with terrorists. All hell broke loose the moment they step foot in the area. They had no choice but to pull back.
So here I was, watching as the dead and wounded was carried off of the choppers. I was looking for the familiar head of blonde hair and caught sight of Captain Hayes, the leader of the team. He looked pretty banged up but as far as I can see he was still standing on his own two feet, which was a relief.
“Where’s Will??” I asked him once I got close enough to him. The stricken look on his face made a bottomless pit opened up in my gut. No. “Where. Is. Will??” I repeated through gritted teeth.
“We were separated when they ambushed us. We had no choice.”
“Wha… What are you saying??”
“We were outnumbered, men were dying. We had to pull back.” The implication behind those words made me feel like I’ve been stabbed in the chest by a blunt knife. Repeatedly. “You left him??” I said numbly.
“I’m so sorry, Jack.” He sounded so far away, muted. All noises around me were drowned out by the sound of a very loud static in my head. It was like my brain had completely shut down. Nothing make sense anymore. The only thing my brain seemed to be stuck on is the fact that Will was not here and he might not come back.
Like hell I was just gonna accept that this morning was the last time I’d ever saw him. ‘Dammit, Will. Don’t get dead.’ I thought, recalling what I said to him before he took off.
Day one, I was still frozen with a mind-numbing fear.
Day two, rage had finally made itself known.
Day three, I was already losing my goddamn mind.
We were frantically searching for the place where they hold Will, pulling every single resource we had. That’s when the photos were coming in. I had taken one look at the tab in my hand and all but hurled the damn thing to the wall before I stormed out of the room promising pain and blood on anyone who dared to lay a finger on Will.
I needed to break something so I went to the gym before I accidentally shoot some poor bastard in the face. Everyone pretty much got out of the way when they took one look at my face. Some trainee looked like he was gonna piss all over himself when he was unfortunate enough to get in the way. Thank the God the gym was pretty much empty when I got there.
Blood was rushing in my ears as a hit the punching bag. I couldn’t think about anything else. The image of Will’s body littered with cuts and bruises, chained to the goddamn wall like an animal was stuck in my mind. My screwed up brain would certainly add that image into my endless collection of nightmares.
I was demolishing the punching bag when General Capshaw found me. The General. Will’s dad. God, I didn’t even consider much this affected him. It must be killing him inside that his son, his only son was very much behind the enemy lines, possibly being tortured right at this second.
“Aren’t you still recuperating?? Are you sure you should be doing that right now??” He gestured to the punching bag. I sighed and stopped punching the damn thing before I sat down on the mat. I didn’t even bother to stand at attention and the good general didn’t seem to mind.
“Probably not a good idea. Still better than accidentally shooting some poor bastard in the face though. Because in case you haven’t notice, sir, I’m kinda trigger happy right now.” I said. If he heard the slight tremor in my voice towards the end of that sentence, he didn’t comment on it.
“I can relate to that,” he said as he sat beside me, “seeing as I’ve been on a trigger-happy mode myself since I got word that Will was…” he trailed off. Unable to finish that sentence without completely losing his mind.
“What’s the demand, sir??” I asked. “They sent those pictures. I assume they were holding him for ransom. What do they want??”
“There’s no demand.” My head snapped up to him so fast it was making me a bit dizzy. “Those pictures were for me. He wants to make me suffer.” Well that… of all things I didn’t expect that. This was personal?? Who the hell was that guy?? How did he even know General Capshaw?? I wanted to ask that to him. But judging from the look on his face, that is a whole can of worm that he didn’t want to open. At least, not yet.
“We’ll get him back, sir.” I said. Pulling every last shred of conviction that I had into that single sentence. “I’m not giving up on him. Not now. Not ever.” I echoed what Will said to me that night a few months prior. God, that felt like a lifetime ago. “I’m dragging his scrawny little ass back here and I’m gonna handcuffed myself to him so this won’t happen again.”
It felt like one of my greatest achievement in my life when that pulled a laugh out of the General. ‘I’m coming for you, Will. We’re all coming for you.’
‘Frank Peterson is an arrogant low-life piece of filth and I’m going to enjoy tearing him apart limb from limb.’ I thought as I saw him smirking through the video feed.
We were finalizing our plan of attack when the transmission came in. It was Frank Peterson, the leader of the terrorist group who took Will. There was no reason for him to contacted us other than to rub it in Capshaw’s face that he had his only son. ‘That is it. I’ve had enough of this crap.’
“You’re going to die tomorrow, Mr. Peterson.” I spoke out, surprising everyone in the room, including Peterson, as they turned their head as one to me. “Sleep well.” I smiled sweetly at him as he glared daggers at me. That’s when the transmission suddenly cut out.
I raised an eyebrow at Kelly, our communication officer, who sat innocently at her station. “Did you just hang up on the supposedly dangerous terrorist leader??”
“What?? I was helping you out.” She said. “I mean that was one awesome mic-drop line.” She grinned at me.
“I know right.”
“Even though you were totally quoting it from Game of Thrones.”
“What?? I saw an opportunity and I took it.” I shrugged.
When out of freaking nowhere, Capshaw added. “Pity we don’t have any cage full of hungry dogs to throw him into though.” My jaw just, honest to God, dropped to the floor. His lips twitched up a little in the corner as he saw me struggling to pick my jaw up. I mean, holy Mother of God, did that just happen?? Did General Stephen ‘Hardass’ Capshaw made a reference to Game of Thrones??
‘Huh, not a guy with a stick up his ass after all.’
This is it. Operation: Storm the Castle is officially a go. We got a confirmation on the location. This time, the intel is legit. Turned out, the place where they hold Will was a secret base in Iowa. Which is, really?? Iowa?? Who the hell built a secret base in goddamn Iowa?? Can’t really complain about it, to be honest. It just made our job easier.
“A word, sergeant??” said General Capshaw when we were prepping for the mission.
“Of course, sir.” I followed him out of the building. When he turned around to faced me, he looked every bit as the notoriously feared General that he was known for. That prompted me to stand at full attention.
“I need the Reaper in this mission.” I froze. “I know you don’t want to be called that anymore. But what my son need right know, the one that will guarantee his safety, is the Reaper. I know Peterson is not the brightest crayon in the box, but he is a survivor. And I don’t want that kind complication. I want him erased from existence once and for all. Do you copy, Sergeant??”
Any trace of emotions was erased from my face as the Reaper took over. My voice cold as ice when I said, “yes, sir.”
“Bring my son back. Burn everything to the ground. I want nothing left. Make them regret ever messing with a Capshaw.”
Order received. Loud and clear.
‘They had no idea what’s coming for them.’
The assault team engaged most of the enemy forces outside the base. A distraction so this little team consisting of six people can infiltrate the base undetected. Once we got in, I grabbed one of the terrorist and shoved him into an empty room.
“Where is he??”
He spat to my face.
‘Alright. I asked him nicely.’ I thought, before put my hand over his mouth and stabbed him in the thigh then twisted it for good measure. “You know, if you don’t answer me I can just kill you right now and find others who would happily help me, right??” His eyes widened comically. “So, I’m gonna ask you again. Where is he??”
I put my hand off his mouth but still left the knife in. “D-down the hall, turn left, third d-door on the right.” He stammered.
I smiled. “Thank you.” Before I pulled the knife out and shoved it to his neck. I turned around and saw that the five soldiers I brought with me were glancing at each other uncomfortably. ‘Right.’
“O’Brien, Velazquez, set the charges. Wait at the rendezvous point after you’re done.” Once they nodded, I turned to the other three. “The rest of you, come with me.” Then, we went our separate ways.
We were met with some resistance, but nothing we can’t handle since most of the fighters were outside.Finally, we reached our destination.
Nothing could’ve prepared me for what I’m gonna see inside.
This time, he wasn’t chained like in the photos. He was lying on the ground with nothing but the cargo pants he was wearing the day he went on the mission. His skin was pale, almost translucent in the dark room. There was almost no part of his body that wasn’t covered in bruises. It was like his whole body is one giant bruise.
“Jack..??” Will rasped out. I didn’t even notice that his eyes were opened because I was too busy staring at his broken and malnourished body. “Is that you??”
I immediately dropped down to my knees beside his body. “Hey, buddy. Yeah, it’s me. I’m gonna get you out of here.”
Will closed his eyes. “Took you long enough.” He whispered as a small smile broke out of his face. I felt a lump formed in my throat. Here he was, bent and broken yet still managed to find the strength to smile. I cleared my throat. No, I still have a job to be done.
I stood up.
“Get him out of here.” I said to the other three. I walked out the door before any of them could even nod. “Jack…??” I could faintly hear Will called out to me and I had to force myself not to looked back.
“Bravo 1, this is TOC. Be advised that the target is making a run for it to the garage.”
“Copy that. Heading down there now.” I answered before I broke into a run.
When I got there, he was about to get into the car. I shot him in the back before he could hop in. He dropped to the ground beside the car. Shouting in pain. In a last ditch attempt, he tried to crawled away. Pathetic.I was on him in a split second and kicked away the gun he was about to reach. Then I turned him on his back with my foot.
“I told you, you’re gonna die today,” I began, “I hope you had a good night sleep last night.” My voice void of any trace of emotion.
“What are you waiting for, then?? Shoot me.” He said as blood trickled out of his mouth. So, I did. In both of his kneecaps, rendering his legs completely useless, so he couldn’t move. “That’s for Will.” I said through his cries of pain. I walked over him to opened the garage door and hopped on the car that he was going to use to escape.
“20 seconds till detonation, boss. You better get the hell out of there now.” I heard O’Brien’s voice in my earpiece as I turn on the ignition. I looked down at the dying man by the car and said, “General Capshaw sends his regard.” Before I drove out of the garage.
The whole compound exploded not long after I drove out of there.
‘Walk away from that, asshole.’
‘He looked so small.’ I thought as I sat on Will’s bedside. He was finally out of the surgery and the doctors assured us that he’ll make a swift recovery. Physically at least. ‘But what about mentally??’
I looked up when I heard the door opened and saw General Capshaw came into the room. We nodded at each other before he took a seat on the other side of the bed.
“We got a confirmation. Peterson’s dead.” He whispered. And I nodded as I kept staring between Will and the numerous machines he was hooked into. Then, he continued. “There was a drone strike, a couple of years ago.” I slowly lifted my eyes to looked at him, but he got his eyes locked on to his son’s unconscious body. “We took a shot at him, we missed, and he walked.” He paused. “We didn’t know his family was there.”
“It was my fault that Will was—“
“Don’t.” I cut him off. “Don’t even go there, sir. That place is ugly. What matter right now is that Will is here alive and safe. And Peterson’s gone for good, he didn’t walk away from this one. I made sure of that.”
And there’s that. Nothing left to talk about. Silence descended into the room once more.
“You went through great length for him.” He suddenly started talking again. “Why??” He asked. I frowned at him. What is he getting at?? “Don’t misunderstand me, sergeant. I know your loyalty is true. And I also know for a fact that you didn’t befriend him just because he’s the General’s son. But why??”
For a long time, I didn’t say anything, just kept watching Will. And Stephen didn’t push for answer. Maybe he didn’t expect one, but I gave it to him anyway.
“Because he saved me.”